Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Wrath 9

We are looking at the meaning of wrath (orge) and anger (thumos) in the NT — and we are looking at these texts to see if they tip off a consistent pattern. The pattern we are looking for is one of three strands: does God’s wrath refer to God’s acts in history (historical wrath), to an evangelistic argument for responding in faith (evangelistic wrath), and/or to a sense that wrath is the Final Judgment of God (eternal wrath)? We looked at John and Jesus and argued there that historical wrath is in mind; now we are looking at Paul and while he may have historical wrath in mind, he seems also to have eternal wrath in mind. So, today we look at …
Romans 5:9 and its context: “6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person?though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
The intent of God is to save and to give life. The focus here is not the anger or wrath of God, but instead God’s love and God’s grace. And this grace and love come to humans when they are sinners and it turns over sin, turns it on its head, and overcomes it … so that humans can find reconciliation with God. This reconciliation occurs through the death of Christ.
Having said that, and that is the emphasis of the text, an emphasis doesn’t mean there aren’t other themes present. One of those is wrath.
Paul sets up a comparison:
(A) We are (B) justified by his (C) blood.
(A2) We will be (B2) saved from God’s (C2) wrath.
Justification has an opposite: non-justification is non-salvation.
Wrath in this comparison is in alignment with blood (and blood is close to life/death here).
Perhaps the wrath of God is shown in God’s judgment on sin in the death of Christ.
Perhaps the wrath is separate from the death of Christ; perhaps the wrath is what those who have been justified-by-blood will escape. Perhaps Paul has simply wandered to the idea that those who in Christ will escape historical judgment in 70AD (I think that is a hard case to make).
Anyway, wrath must be connected in the next few verses with death.
Here’s how I would see it: wrath here refers to the consequences of sin, which is death, and therefore wrath and death are similar, which means Christ’s death is a wrath-kind of act. Judgment has come in Jesus’ death/blood. Wrath here is less likely historical wrath and more likely eternal wrath.

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posted June 2, 2008 at 5:28 am

Just a thought as I eat my Captain Crunch….
Is it possible that just as evil is not a “thing” but rather an absence of good; that wrath is not something that God intentionally pours out but rather the absence of salvation and justification of the blood of Christ?

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Faith J Totushek, fjs

posted June 2, 2008 at 6:40 am

I have been reading Romans 1-3 and was thinking about God’s wrath as when God turned humans over to their own desires and bore the consequences of being turned over. This would also make sense in light of Christ’s death. Jesus experienced the full brunt of evil human sin on the cross–in all of it horrific brutality. Wrath is God turning us over.
It would fit with the prodical son story. The son experienced the weight and wrath of his own sin through consequences. then he came to his senses and sought forgiveness.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 2, 2008 at 6:54 am

Interesting question; Augustine, wasn’t it, who said evil doesn’t exist; it’s the absence of good. Wrath, with that sort of approach, would be absence of God’s love and grace. Perhaps the experience of the good presence of God without the capacity to love in return. Not sure.

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posted June 2, 2008 at 7:06 am

wow… only 3 comments… other people must have a similar reaction as I did… who wants to talk about wrath?
I don’t blame God for getting mad, there is plenty to be upset about. I am just amazed at his patience … especially with me!

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posted June 2, 2008 at 7:09 am

Why did Augustine class evil as absence of good? Doesn’t seem right to me. It also doesn’t seem that the Biblical evidence supports the idea that wrath is passive (withdrawal) rather than active (judgment).

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Ben Wheaton

posted June 2, 2008 at 8:56 am

I agree with RJS–God’s wrath seems to be active.

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posted June 2, 2008 at 9:38 am

RJS #5-
Keith Drury sums up Augustine:
“Evil is a corruption of good. Augustine did not grant sin stand-alone status. God created good, and evil exists only as that which falls short of good. If God had created good without the possibility of evil there would, (practically speaking) be no true good at all (for us). Even the existence of evil is thus ?good.? Evil is located in the space falling short of Good. But, to Augustine, while everything that resides in this space falling short of good is evil, all evil is not automatically ?sin.?

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Scott M

posted June 2, 2008 at 3:48 pm

Of course, I opened my primary bible to this passage and read this:

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.

How interesting. I then did a quick survey of many English translations and found that most interpreted ‘wrath’ as God’s wrath or God’s anger. So I pulled out my interlinear Greek-English NT and found it’s just wrath. So I studied the surrounding context. And it seems to me that you would only insert the qualifier “God’s” before “wrath” in the text if and only if you had predetermined that God is angry and his besmirched honor needs to be satisfied.
Of course, I tend to agree with Wright here. I don’t think that’s Paul’s primary intent in the letter at all. There are certainly subtexts that can be read that way if you want. But that doesn’t strike me as the overarching purpose of the text.
Anyway Scot, I know you do know Greek pretty well and have worked on translation teams. What do you feel is the justification for translating the text as “God’s wrath” instead of simply “wrath” as it’s written?

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posted June 2, 2008 at 9:06 pm

Scott M,
I notice that it isn’t just “wrath” – it’s “the wrath” with the genitive case article. As you may know, the Greek article is a many-splendored thing. The NET Bible briefly defends translating it as “God’s wrath” in their notes, appealing to the context of verse 10 as well. I am certainly not making an airtight case for it being God’s wrath, but I would say that if you wanted to demonstrate that it is NOT God’s wrath in view, you would have to classify and explain the function of the genitive article in the phrase in question.

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posted June 2, 2008 at 11:31 pm

This was good for me to read: “Here?s how I would see it: wrath here refers to the consequences of sin, which is death, and therefore wrath and death are similar, which means Christ?s death is a wrath-kind of act. Judgment has come in Jesus? death/blood. Wrath here is less likely historical wrath and more likely eternal wrath.” My professor at University taught me that. I also thought that wrath is active judgement and not passive. (RJS #5)

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